A PRACTICAL ENGLISH PHONETIC
R. Byron Bird
University of Maryland
iiiiarch 26, ly45
The purpose of this thesis is to present a solution
to the problem of English epellingj herein I havs shown the
reasoning which led me to the devslopment of the practical phonetic
system herein exposed. The reasoning is divided into three partes
(a) analysis of the faults of the present system, (b) possibilities
and suggestions for correction, and (c) choosing a practical and
R. Byron Bird
karch 26, 19^5
A PRACTICAL ENGLISH PHONETIC SPELLII\'G SYSTEM
A STATE OF DISORDER.
The inconeietency of English spelling haa long been a source of
mental perplexity to the novice and, to the veteran, a sourca or perpetual
irritation. In Shakespeare's time, conformity in spelling was unheard of,
and a man was at liberty to transcribe his words as he so desired- Ever
since the publication of Bsn JoJTinson' s well-known
dictionary, scholars have sought uniformity in the
English system of spelling. Today, we have unifonnity
in spelling in that most words liave a definite spell-
ing, be it 10i^ical or not. Ifet, from the phon3tic
point of view, English spelling is in a state of extreme disorder. These
inconsistencies may well be illustr&ted by a man by the name of Turner, who
claimed that he had a perfect ri^^ht to spell hie name "Phtholo^nyrrh, " since
hthisic is pronounced "tlzlk"j c olon el, "kurn«l"j .^lat, "nXt"; and i nyrrh .
s oft ]
Plate 1. i
' mur •
WHAT IS mWQ WITH ENGLISH SPELLING?
The two faults of English spelling are (l) that one symbol may
represent a host of different sounds (see Plate l) and (2) that one sound
is represented by more than one symbol (see Plate 2). The obvious remedy
for this chaotic situation would be to develop a system
in which every sound would be represented i?y one symbol.
Spanish and Italian almost satisfy this condition, and
there is no reason why English could not be made to do the
same. However, a many-sided problem arises when one com-
mences to prescribe the method for a reform of the system
of spelling of the English language.
METHODS OF REFORM.
A SIMPLIFIED SPELLING SYSTEM. Many unsystamatic individuals
believe that words should be "written just like they sound." Suggestions
have been made to modify the present system to make it so ewhat more logical,
dropping silent "e* s, " replacing "ph" by "f,"
and similar simplifications. This idea merits
little consideration, as there would still re-
main phonetic irregularities. If there is to
be a reform, it should be an accurate, scientific improvement.
WEBSTER'S SYSTEM. Using a system of orthography such as that of
Webster, ambiguity and inconsistency could be reduced to nil. A scheme of
this type would be most accurate, to be surej but the unwieldy diacritical
marks render the system totally impractical for everyday use by the ordinary
individual. Reading and writing wouid be quite difficult, and the jobs of
typing and typesetting would be onerous. Some of the
complications might be imagined from Plate 5.
TIffi INTERNATIONAL FHQI-ISTIO ALPHABET.
Why not invent additional new symbols and discard the
diacritical marks? Following this suggestion, the
International Phonetic Alphabet (I. P. A.) might be employed. There are in
English about forty fundamental sound sj consequently, an alphabet of about
fiorty letters would satisfy the conditions. Here again, the scheme seems
satisfactory until its practicability is considered. All of the present type
would be immediately antiquated, and new type would become a necessity. All
typewriters would have to be remodeled, working a tremendous hardship on
typists. Such machines would be quite unwieldy, for adding about fifteen
new characters to a machine would make any stenographer shudder. The cost
as in short '
d^ as in jump j
^ as in chap J
n as in sing j
/v\ as in whim j
Plate 4. I
of 8uch an undertaking would be phenomenal and prohibitive. In Plate 4 are
shown soma of the additional symbols of the I. P. A.
A PRACTICAL SYSTEM. During the past several years, I have bean
developing a system of practical phonetic transcription which I feel is v/orthy
of consideration. It employs twenty-seven letters — those of the present
n as in net
oi as in bite
j ae in ^et
ci as in soil
qi as in bats
cu as in boat
ah as in ship
iu as in music
zh as in a_zure
ou as in house
th as in thin
dh as in this
ng as in sin^
b as in bib
hw as in wj^at
p as in pop
tsh as in cljoice
d as in did
dzh as in jjaw
alphabet and, in addition, the symbol 'y." No capital letters are used, thus
eliminating rules for capitalization and need for two types of letters, fia a h
fundamotal Bn)-:lioh Bownd i s rapr aea ntad fay on a ^ a fct a r o b a c ombia fc t io n o f —
l e tt e »» . Each fundamental English sound is represented by one letter or a
combination of letters, thus attaining a simple, consistent system. The system
is presented in Plate 5» and in Plate 6 is shown the transcription of Joyce
THE ADOPTION OF THE PRACTICAL SYSTEMi
Wiy is this system superior to those already mentioned! Why ie
the system practical? liVhat are its advantages? First of all, the system is
phonetic, reasonably accurate for practical purposes, and employs only twenty-
seven symbols. No capital letters are u8-3d, thus eliminating the evils of
capitalization, as well as those of spelling. The system is entirely free
from confusing diacritical marks. Typewriters and type would not have to be
changedj causing no confusion or expense.
Immediately, difficulties begin to present themsslvas. V.'ill not
the change be difficult and confusing? Will not present writings become
antiquated/ like those of Chaucer and Bede? Perhaps the easiest way to an-
swer is to cite the case of Turkey. Turkey accomplished a siiL^ilar change in
, —~ . J 1926, going from the old Arabic
oi thingk dhat oi shal nqver e^
e pcuem Ixvli az e tr/,
e trj^ hyz hxnggri mouth iz prqet
egqntst dhji erthe Bwet flcuing brqet,
e tr/ dhat luks at god ol dqi
and lifts her Ij^fi ormz tu prqij
e trji dhat mqi in sxmer wqr
e nqst ev robenz in her hqr;
xpcn hyz buzem sncu haz Iqin;
hy intemetli livz with rqin.
pcuemz or mqid boi fylz loik mjiJ,
bxt ounli god kan mqik e trji.
— dzhoie kilmer
script symbols to the Roman
characters, a transition far more
difiloult than that which I am
BugL,e sting. Their transition
seemed difficult at first, but
the cliange was well worth the
I hope the day will
oome when a system, such as that
which I have propoaed, will be realized. Day by day, things in the world
about us are being streamlined, being made more standard, being made more
scientific. Let us, then, see that the streamlining of the English spelling
system will become a reality.
1. Encyclopoedia Britarmica, l4th Edition, Volume 16. Phonstics *
2. Webster's Collegiote Dictionary, 5th Sdtion.
5« Encyclopoedia Americana, I^J-^^j Volume 21, Phonetics .
4. New International Encyclopoedia, 2nd Edition, Volume 21, Spelling Reform .
5. National Geographic ivlagazine. Volume IV, January I929. Turkey Goes to
School , by k. 0. Williama, p. 94.
6. Encyclopoedia Americana, 1952, Volume 25. Spelling; Reform .